BY MELISSA RUGGIERI/AJC Music Scene
For sheer rock crunch, it will be tough to top the veteran production from Deep Purple and Alice Cooper.
Their shared U.S. tour – a continuation of “The Long Goodbye” outing that Deep Purple launched overseas in late spring with the addition of Cooper and the Edgar Winter Band – began a little more than a week ago in Las Vegas and can easily be called the most joyful air guitar fest of this waning summer.
At Chastain Park Amphitheatre on Monday night, the snowy-haired Winter, a spry 70, was first to take the stage to the sounds of his 1973 Dan Hartman-penned guitar chugger, “Free Ride.”
During his opening set, Winter showcased his multiple musical skills – playing keyboards, saxophone and drums – and a still-potent voice as he engaged in lengthy call-and-response bits with guitarist Doug Rappoport and bassist Koko Powell.
Winter dedicated “Tobacco Road” to his brother Johnny Winter, and graciously thanked fans for their condolences following the musician’s 2014 death. To add to the remembrance, Winter rolled out “Rock and Roll, Hoochie Koo,” the fist-pumping 1970 hit for the Johnny Winter Band written by then-member Rick Derringer.
As he alternated among instruments and flipped his hair in between songs, Winter appeared to relish being onstage and the nostalgic reaction prompted by these well-worn radio chestnuts.
While Deep Purple and Cooper are an intriguing double bill, their live approaches differ tremendously.
Cooper is still the master of kooky performance art rock and the fact that little has changed in his show over the decades is actually something to be celebrated. Who wants to watch an Alice Cooper set and NOT see the guillotine or the stage strewn with what looks like remnants from the storage basement of a Spirit Halloween shop?
Early in his 70-minute set, Cooper, sounding perfectly growly and robust, preened and flexed his baton as he strolled the stage for “No More Mr. Nice Guy” and “Billion Dollar Babies.” His killer five-piece band is primed to deploy his melodic rock while engaging in the fake-blood-smeared, spandex-and-scarves visuals that help them morph into their own motley crew and captivate alongside their raccoon-eyed boss.
Cooper recently released his 27th studio album, “Paranormal,” and presented the catchy, new “Paranoiac Personality” along with classics “Under My Wheels” and “Feed My Frankenstein,” which, naturally, featured the electrocution scene followed by the towering Frankenstein puppet chasing band members around the stage.
Cooper has surrounded himself with top-shelf talent and his pretty blond guitarist, Nita Strauss, not only commandeered the attention of a pack of guys at the front of the stage as she posed with her foot perched on a monitor during “Woman of Mass Distraction,” but, leading into the MTV-era classic “Poison,” shredded an eyebrow-raising guitar solo.
Cooper’s drummer, Glen Sobel, was an entertaining sight as well as he flipped him sticks while Cooper prowled the stage during “Poison” and unfurled a technically precise solo as part of a full, meaty “Halo of Flies.”
Cooper, 69, gamely faced the consequences of his naughty behavior by shoving his head in a guillotine for “Killer,” which paired with the band singing “I Love the Dead” until Cooper re-appeared at the back of the stage clutching his “head.”
As the energy continued to escalate, Cooper defiantly thrust a crutch in the air as he belted “I’m Eighteen,” with full crowd participation. But it was the encore of “School’s Out,” featuring Cooper in his formalwear of top hat and tails, which provided the most vigorous kick.
As colored balloons were batted around the crowd and streamers flowed from the sides of the stage, Cooper and his band doused the ageless song with a dash of its spiritual musical cousin, Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2).” The encore marked the only time Cooper addressed the audience, preferring to allow them to revel in the theatrical performance.
After a notably quick set change, the quintet of drummer Ian Paice, bassist Roger Glover, singer Ian Gillan, guitarist Steve Morse and keyboardist Don Airey hit a clean stage backed by a large video screen for the opening “Highway Star.”
Though Deep Purple released what is possibly its final album, “Infinite,” in April, the majority of their set zigzagged through their nearly 50-year career, from 2013’s “Uncommon Man” to 1972’s “Lazy,” which offered Gillan tossing off lyrics with a bluesy cadence.
Deep Purple’s punchy, prog-ish rock sounded taut throughout, though Gillan’s voice is mostly a coarse warble. Guitarist Steve Morse, his blond hair blowing like a Norse god, stepped into the spotlight for one searing solo after another, while the rhythm section of Paice and Glover steamrolled through the new “The Surprising,” filled with dark hues and machine gun snare drum.
Keyboardist Airey, tucked behind a stable of keyboards, presented a multi-dimensional solo that shifted from church-like organ to spacey synthesizer wizardry to snippets of “Georgia On My Mind” and “America the Beautiful” before eventually winding into “Perfect Strangers.”
As if this night needed any additional reasons to crank out the air guitar, Deep Purple presented perhaps the most identifiable guitar riff in music as it kicked into “Smoke on the Water.”
There is almost 150 years of collective rock history on this tour, making it an unbeatable assembly.